My brother, Tom, died a few weeks ago. It wasn’t unexpected at all, maybe a tiny bit sooner than projected but that horrible old nemesis, cancer, once again had its way with people that I love. Proving, conclusively, that cancer doesn’t give two hoots about how I feel or what I think.
Tom was 65, had just turned 65 about 12 days before he died. Young for a man these days, but Tom had been through a really gruesome fight with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma twenty years earlier. After he beat that bout of nastiness, Tom always felt that every day thereafter was a gift … and he lived his life in that manner; grateful for every day the sun shined, happy if it snowed, thrilled if it was springtime, beaming in the autumn.
Tom was #3 in a series of Goode kids, 5 boys and 1 girl, from Nutley NJ. Our parents, like so many post-WWII families, popped out babies willy-nilly. And, like so many others at the time, they weren’t necessarily well-equipped to handle the financial burdens that came with raising 6 kids, especially when 5 of them were boys. We were, by any definition, poor, but we were actually well cared for. I have no memory of ever being hungry or not having clothes to wear. There was always heat in the winter, a big old coal furnace in the basement right next to the coal bin where Tom and I would play like we were in a modern day ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese. Tom was always dirtier than me, or so I’d like to believe in my now fuzzy recollections … Mom made sure we washed our hands before eating, but I kinda remember the dirty clothes remaining on our filthy coal-dust bodies.
Growing up with 5 boys, most of us quite tall, basketball in the back yard was a major thing for us. None of us were great, despite our height, but we battled feverishly in our back yard games. Tom had these skinny arms and super pointy elbows that he would blast into your rib cage. Luckily, since I was #2 in line, Tom and I would team up against Buzz (#1) and Mike (#4), trying to balance out the team selection as best possible, so I wasn’t always the recipient of those skinny boney elbows. Of course, once Buzz went in the service and Frank (#6) was old enough to join in the fray, the teams were re-set and elbow-boy was now trying to slice me up … he did a pretty good job of that, BTW!
Due to our closeness in age, and a lot of common interests, I was closer to Tom than I was to my other brothers and sister. We more or less went to the same schools together, both got married at a far too young age, both had two kids pretty much right away, both got divorced while the kids were still little kids, both re-married into very sweet, long-term marriages. Through all of those years, Tom and I stayed friendly, our wives were friends, our kids were friends … heck, at one point when my life started crumbling at my feet Tom and his beautiful wife Lil opened their doors to me and my late wife, Bunny, when we returned from an out-of-state move.
Tom had demons that he needed to confront, and he did just that, confronted them head-on. He used his hard earned life lessons to be a counselor to others facing the same life consequences that his wrong choices brought to him. I’m not sure how many were guided by Tom, but for those whose path he crossed I’m certain they are the better person for the experience. He never looked away from his mistakes, but never dwelled on those mistakes, either.
He was always somewhat spiritual, and in his later years his faith provided a steady foothold as he and Lil ventured into the next phases of their lives. His family, extended by the inclusion of Lil’s children and grandchildren along with his two sons families and grandkids, was a high priority. In spite of distances broadening as the extended family grew, Tom remained a constant husband, father and grandfather to them all.
There are countless stories and tales of the Goode’s growing up in Nutley, NJ. The re-telling seems to have broadened a bit, with unquestioned additions put into the telling dependent upon the narrator, but all of the remembrances result in the same recollections of a family that was filled with love, concern, laughter and hope in spite of the meager lifestyle and moderate upbringing. Tom reflected that upbringing in everything he did.
Tom was two years younger than me, and seemingly always two years behind me in just about everything … until now. Sadly, his health issues just skyrocketed while I stood in the back, watching with dismay as his life started to wind down. We had some very good chats on my last two visits, and I can say with absolute authority that Tom felt blessed in his life. His strong faith, his incredible marriage to Lil, his loving extended family … all deeply rooted reasons for his contentment and acceptance of the hand life dealt to him.
All things considered, I’ll always remember Tom as my childhood co-conspirator, sitting right next to me as we melted yet another pack of Crayola crayons on the steam radiator in our bedroom. Two of those “Goode boys” from Nutley, NJ, creating a mess and laughing like two idiots. Those were some of the very best days of my life, and without Tom, they wouldn’t ever be remembered the same way.
Safe travels, Brother … we all love you and we’ll see you at the next stop …
Sheila and Ed Goode reside in Acworth Georgia, which is in the greater Atlanta region. Sheila specializes in mid-Century Modern styles and vintage clothing. Ed is a musician with his primary focus in the jazz field.
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